Do you imagine life, not as a cabaret, but as an aquarium? Have you dreamed of being a fish? Not just any fish, but a sushi-eating fish? Dude, do you want 2,200 gallons of saltwater, 54,000 watts of power, 80 speakers and seven freakin' miles of lighting in your underwater crib?
Maybe you're rolling in fish bait, and you're even willing to pay extra for a private rooftop lounge and dining room in your aquarium.
If so, you should head to Luckie Food Lounge (375 Luckie St., 404-525-5825). This gigantic new restaurant, themed like an underwater playground for humans, is located next to the Georgia Aquarium. It is the work of Mike Boles, who owned the high-tech nightclub Compound before selling it last year.
I visited the restaurant just a few days after it had opened, so please regard this as a first impression. An undertaking of this size is going to have opening glitches that will likely be remedied with time.
The most impressive thing about the restaurant so far is its thematics. It's dark, with lots of weird blue lighting, views of huge aquariums and countless plasma screens on which images of waterfalls continually appear. The hypersensitive might find the watery theme induces an urgent need to urinate. Even at a urinal, you face a plasma screen, and when you finally figure out how to operate the sink controls, you'll find the faucet is yet another blue-lit waterfall.
The restaurant is divided into a large sushi bar, a huge cocktail bar, and a couple of dining areas, as well as the private club space upstairs. We took our seats in a comfy leather-upholstered booth right behind the aquarium in the entrance of the restaurant. I complimented Wayne on the ghostly blue fluorescence of his complexion that evening. He opened his mouth wide, like a fish gasping for air, and returned the compliment.
If you have any doubt about the restaurant's expected clientele, it will be immediately resolved by the menu. It is the kind of menu you expect to find at a Houston's or Applebee's: straightforward American standards without flourish. In other words, it's appealing to those visiting the aquarium next door.
The best parts of our meal were the beginning and the end. We ordered a spider roll from the sushi bar and, honestly, it was much better than the average around town. Its soft-shell crab was freshly cooked, crisp and juicy. The roll was gussied-up with some enoki mushrooms, too – an exception to my generalization about there being no flourishes.
If you're going to order from the regular starter menu, prepare to be bored. There's retro crab dip, ubiquitous fried calamari, the formerly fashionable spinach-and-artichoke dip, the classic shrimp cocktail and the reverse-snobbish pimento cheese with lavosh, which we selected. You'll get an absolute mountain of the stuff, and you'll like it. The cheese is blended with some chilies for zing. It, like all the starters, is clearly constructed for two, so don't let the rather high prices surprise you.
Entrees, alas, were mediocre. Wayne's tuna, the menu's most expensive item outside the steaks, was perhaps the most artlessly plated dish I have ever seen in a serious restaurant. The two small chunks of grilled ahi tuna were cooked properly rare but were disconcertingly dwarfed by the (mealy) beefsteak tomato slices Wayne chose as his side dish. A dab of wasabi and some pickled ginger were also on the white plate. As served, the dish was an education in the necessary virtue of eye appeal.
I was tempted to order a steak because the rest of the menu bored me so much – chicken fingers, cheese ravioli, baby back ribs, sandwiches – but I always feel I have to order something the kitchen has to work at a bit. Or not. I ordered half a rotisserie chicken over garlic mashed potatoes. It wasn't bad, it wasn't good. It reminded me of the Kroger chickens you buy in the little cardboard purses.
Dessert was better. I ordered a crème-brulee trio: raspberry, chocolate and the conventional. Wayne picked white-chocolate bread pudding. It was garnished with what looked like a fan made out of a waffle cone. But it was so strangely textured we seriously argued about whether it was paper or pastry. I am still not convinced it wasn't wrapped in paper. Anyway, Wayne ate it.
What else is there? A stage for live music. A DJ booth. A retail shop called Charm where you can buy gelato and a good magazine.
If the food improves – and I expect it will – this could be a fun destination. In any case, the sushi bar has a spectacular aquarium behind it and is worth a visit alone.
We also visited the brand-new Across the Street (668 Highland Ave., 404-781-0931). I was a bit confused by the concept here, because the menu seems to drift from Mexican to American. The explanation turned out to be simple. The restaurant is offering only a limited menu for the time being. Eventually, according to our server, it will be much more extensive.
What we did eat was mainly good. I made a starter of three tacos – shrimp, chicken and steak. I had them hold the lettuce, so they were topped only with pico de gallo – way too much of it. Its juices filled the plate and turned the flour tortillas soggy. But, dried off, their taste was great – except for the baby shrimp, which never have any taste anywhere.
Wayne started with enchiladas containing black beans and goat cheese, served with a mango salsa, sour cream and queso fresco. They were good enough but, contrary to the tacos, too dry. Inexplicably, the restaurant seems not to offer any red or green salsas. Even chips were served with pico de gallo.
My entree of grilled pork tenderloin, topped with a mango salsa and served with black beans and rice, was tasty, as was Wayne's tilapia, pan-fried with a coating of crushed nuts. It was served with the same sides.
No desserts were yet available.
The restaurant's redo of the former Roman Lily site is deluxe. The back porch is especially inviting.
This is the first in a planned chain including locations in Houston, Chicago, Las Vegas and Dubai.
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